It's worth starting with a look at how Manfred got the job, especially considering Derrick Hall's name was not infrequently mentioned as a potential replacement for Selig. As far back as July 2011, Hall said, "I am often asked if I am a future Commissioner," though he downplayed the possibility when speaking on Arizona Sports Radio in May 2013: "I certainly don't see myself going anywhere, I'm right where I want to be. I'm not leaving Arizona." That didn't stop Dan Bickley from declaring last July that Hall was "the ideal candidate." and adding he had heard "Hall will at least make the list of candidates and has been told as much in private."
If that was so, there wasn't much sign of it the following month, when Manfred was unanimously elected, albeit in a process described by the NY Daily News's Bill Madden as "a web of palace infighting and intrigue". His piece makes it sound like a cross between a House of Cards episode and a papal election during the Borgia era, with six ballots required to reach that "unanimous" choice. [At least Selig didn't have to remove the roof of the Hyatt Regency.] According to the article, Ken Kendrick "held firm right to the end in the hopes that a stalemate would prompt the owners to regroup in November" when Hall could be presented as an alternative candidate.
Might that apparent reluctance to support Manfred lead to blowback down the road? I'd like to think not, but you never know. Though one imagines other issues will be likely to occupy Manfred, at least initially, before he can turn his attention to any petty revenge against those who were disinclined to accept him. Most of these don't particularly have any impact on Arizona; the shifting of the Houston Astros to the American League to balance the divisions removed one such potential stick. But let's look at some of other tasks facing Manfred as he takes over.
Labor negotiation. The current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires in 2016, and will also see a newcomer on the player's side, in former Diamondback and new head of the player's union, Tony Clark. That could help or hinder things. After 20 years of peace, neither may be willing to rock the boat. But, on the other hand, both may want to stamp their authority on the player/owner relationship in this first encounter, and we could end up seeing something like a pair of young stags, battling for supremacy. A lot of money has entered the game since last time, and I've no doubt the union will want to increase their share of the pie.
The troublesome franchises. Both Oakland and Tampa have major issues with their stadia, and the days of the public cheerfully funding hundreds of millions of dollars for new facilities at the drop of a hat appear, thankfully, to be in the past. But both both teams are struggling: 24th and 29th in the majors for attendance last season, with issues of location bedeviling them. The A's want to move to San Jose, and the Rays to a location nearer downtown, but Oakland are hampered by the territorial rights of their neighbors in San Francisco, and St Petersburg city council voted against letting Tampa explore other options. Selig will be happy to walk away from these two problems.
Aging demographics. Baseball may be richer, but its fans are getting older, and without new ones coming in to replace it, the bubble will burst. Half of viewers are 55 or older, twice the percentage in the same age bracket for, say, the NBA. And it's getting worse: as Business Week noted, "Every year, the median viewing age gets one year older. It’s a trend line that ends in a graveyard." If there's an out here, it's through continuing the impressive embracing of new technology, which is well ahead of the other sports. But ending online blackouts would be a major step forward in engaging the smartphone generation.
Changing the game. A thorny area, with baseball likely the sport with the most entrenched traditions. Selig showed himself willing to introduce instant replay, and the pitch clock idea is... Well, let's just say well-intentioned. It's a difficult line to tread, respecting the history of the game, while acknowledging that the world has changed since the 1870's, but as long as he doesn't require the use of the DH in the National League, I'm down with efforts to modernize the game. In particular, two words: robot umps, not least because I'd love to see somebody go all Sarah Connor on their metallic ass, after a called strike three.
International appeal. If the market in the US is perhaps stagnant, there's almost unlimited room for potential growth overseas. The World Baseball Classic may be seen as "meh" by some locally, but it has proven a huge boost and helped to develop the sport in countries like the Netherlands and Brazil, both traditionally bastions of football [no, the real one...]. The thawing of relations with Cuba is another good sign: imagine having a "true" Cuban national team, with Jose Abreu, Yoenis Cespedes and Yasmany Tomas in the next WBC. If Manfred plays his cards right, perhaps a true "World Series" might be his lasting legacy?
Which ones do you think are most important? Any others you think will prove problematic?
[Footnote] And as I was writing this, I saw Manfred's introductory letter to fans, which makes it seem likely a number of the above will indeed be important tasks:
My top priority is to bring more people into our game - at all levels and from all communities. Specifically, I plan to make the game more accessible to those in underserved areas, especially in the urban areas where fields and infrastructure are harder to find... As Commissioner, I will draw closer connections between youth baseball and MLB. I want to inspire children's interest in baseball and help parents and coaches foster that passion.
We will continue to internationalize our game and to celebrate the fact that we have the most diverse rosters in the world. Our mission is to build upon this recent success by creating opportunities for the next wave of baseball talent. We also must continue to nurture inclusive environments for all the contributors to our game and our loyal fans.
Another priority for me is to continue to modernize the game without interfering with its history and traditions. Last season's expanded instant replay improved the game's quality and addressed concerns shared by fans and players. We made a dramatic change without altering the game's fundamentals. I look forward to tapping into the power of technology to consider additional advancements that will continue to heighten the excitement of the game, improve the pace of play and attract more young people to the game.
Robot umps it is, then. :)